Monday, May 7, 2012

Making publicly funded research more widely available

If you're a freelancer or independent researcher, you may have come up against a problem: an article you need is available only behind an expensive paywall. The issue is not being reported widely in the US press, but discussions about it are widespread: in April, for example, the Harvard Faculty Advisory Council issued a statement saying that the university's journal subscriptions were becoming too expensive (at $3.75 million/year) and asking faculty to consider open source publishing. The Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA), which has been introduced in the US House and Senate, would, according to the blog Science Insider,
expand to other research agencies the National Institutes of Health's (NIH's) 4-year-old policy requiring investigators it funds to submit copies of their peer-reviewed manuscripts for posting in a public database. The bill would also set at 6 months the length of time an agency can wait to make the paper public after it appears in a journal (NIH's current policy is 12 months).

In addition, there's a boycott of academic publisher Reed Elsevier, organized by Tim Gowers, a Cambridge mathematician. Arguing that Elsevier's business model of high prices, bundled subscriptions, and opposition to legislation that would allow freer access to information limits the ability of academic researchers to distribute their work widely. Since it launched in January 2012, more than 11,200 researchers around the world have joined the boycott, saying they will no longer do one or more of the following: referee, publish, or editorial work for Elsevier's journals. For more about the boycott, see this blog post by Tyler Neylon in the Guardian.

Last week, the Guardian reported that Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, is helping the UK government in its plan to make all taxpayer-funded research available to all online. As the Guardian puts it:

This initiative is most likely to result in a central repository that will host all research articles that result from public funding. The aim is that, even if an academic publishes their work in a traditional subscription journal, a version of their article would simultaneously appear on the freely available repository. The repository would also have built-in tools to share, comment and discuss articles.

Where is the US press in all of this? I found out about it by reading a newspaper that a British visitor brought. There are blog entries but very little US news coverage of an issue that should be important to scholars, researchers, and taxpayers.

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